Scar

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Steve Klinge
Joe Henry has traveled far from his days as a rootsy storyteller. Beginning with 1996's Trampoline and its dark, impressionistic songs, Henry has experimented with spacious, dreamlike narratives and innovative instrumentation. Scar, his eighth album, retains the character-driven lyrics and the interest in cultural icons that have become his hallmarks, while adding some new twists. Produced by Henry and Craig Street Cassandra Wilson, Chris Whitley, Scar gathers a staggering band of jazz geniuses who support but never overwhelm his often heartbreaking songs. Any album that can feature Brad Mehldau on piano, Marc Ribot on guitar, Brian Blade on drums, and David Pilch on ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Steve Klinge
Joe Henry has traveled far from his days as a rootsy storyteller. Beginning with 1996's Trampoline and its dark, impressionistic songs, Henry has experimented with spacious, dreamlike narratives and innovative instrumentation. Scar, his eighth album, retains the character-driven lyrics and the interest in cultural icons that have become his hallmarks, while adding some new twists. Produced by Henry and Craig Street Cassandra Wilson, Chris Whitley, Scar gathers a staggering band of jazz geniuses who support but never overwhelm his often heartbreaking songs. Any album that can feature Brad Mehldau on piano, Marc Ribot on guitar, Brian Blade on drums, and David Pilch on bass comes with impeccable credentials; add Me'Shell NdegéOcello's funky bass playing on "Rough and Tumble" and "Nico Lost One Small Buddha" and, in a major coup, the legendary Ornette Coleman on alto sax on several other tracks, and you have nothing less than an event. Although each of these artists contributes distinctive touches -- Coleman's improvisations on "Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation" and its reprise are highlights -- Scar is still very much a Joe Henry album. He's not dabbling in jazz, nor are the jazz musicians dabbling in pop, even when radically reworking the hit that Henry wrote for his sister-in-law Madonna, "Don't Tell Me" here retitled "Stop". Rather, Scar is as great as the sum of its parts, and that is great indeed.
All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
For the last five years, Joe Henry has gradually taken his songwriting into hidden areas, exploring the different textures of shadow with occasional forays into the twilight of the human heart. Longing has been painted upon the smoky backdrop of every song he's written. His protagonists have been mixtures of Oliver Gant from Thomas Wolfe, the man whose passion was just beyond his reach, never quenching his thirst, to working cats that Raymond Carver has illustrated well -- men who've noticed the lack in their soul cavities when it comes to love, often realizing too late that it, and it alone, is the only thing humans have. And Henry, despite the increasing psychological and emotional depth of his lyrical character studies and an increasingly angular method of his storytelling, has always been able to put these varying literary tropes into love songs that register without a lot of fuss. They tell it, though it doesn't really matter exactly what, because the person who needs to hear them does. On Scar, his eighth album, Henry follows his other obsession down the rabbit hole: the myriad ways in which sound and texture can become musical instruments themselves in order to paint a song properly. Scar, his highly textured sonic meditation on love and its twisted redemptive power, features a list of highly visible musicians that help make this the album Henry's been trying to make his entire adult life. Producing and contributing to four soundtracks hasn't hurt Henry a bit in his quest to make his music finish the story his lyrics sketch out. With the help of producer Craig Street, Henry moves the bell further down the wire of soulful yet accessible pop music. The opener, "Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation," slips its smoky way into being with a whining guitar by Marc Ribot, a vibraphone by Brian Blade, and Henry's cigarette-stained vocal: "Sometimes I think I've almost fooled myself/Spreading out my wings above us like a tree/Laughing now out loud/Almost like I was free/I look at you as the thing I wanted most/You look at me and it's like you see a ghost/I wear the face all of this has cost/Everything you tried to keep away from me/Everything I took from you and lost." It's a blues tune, where steel guitar is trumped by Ornette Coleman's alto blowing his deepest soul-blues. He thins the lyric yet digs its knife in deeper. By the tune's nadir, the protagonist has shrunk to the vanishing point and disappears in a wisp of smoke. From here the disc moves into a broken, slippery Cuban mambo driven by Brad Mehldau and Blade. Ribot chimes the lyric through and the love song asserts itself in earnest: "Don't tell me to stop/Tell the rain not to drop/Tell the wind not to blow 'cause you say so/ Tell me love isn't true/It's just something we do/Tell me everything I'm not/But don't tell me to stop." Ribot rings through the rhythm section, filling it with droning melodic lines that knot themselves around Henry's vocal. The string sounds give the impression of a son band from time immemorial winding their way into the mix. Despite Ribot's seductive riffing and Blade's New Orleans' double-time rhythm, "Mean Flower" is a ballad coming from the center of a heart so broken, all it shines is prismatic light. Its protagonist has literally nothing left to lose by his proclamation; he's been through the purification process and speaks only to make sure the beloved who's ripped from him his essence knows that he knows the truth. He is not judgmental in his brokenness, but is illuminated in the purity of his burning, bleeding heart. If Leonard Cohen's notion that "There is a crack in everything/That's where the light gets in" is true, Henry's singer is all light. The final track, the album's namesake, is an opus at 14:21. Lyrically it's as direct as anything Henry's ever written, but it's an entire film score rolled into one love song. It's poetry too genuine, so metaphorical and rich in imagery, that it would be a disservice to quote from it. It is the most beautiful of the many beautiful songs Henry has written. Texturally, everything but a clarinet line paints the landscape as an early New Orleans Sunday, and the acoustic guitars are buried in a slow, rhythmic mix. Here Henry takes his cinematic vision and lets it illustrate brokenness and determination, celebrating them both as being as good as it gets, and that's plenty fine. The fact that after the songs fades it becomes a backdrop for Coleman to blow is just fine; he lays out the soul and blues in his horn in the void. Scar, with its rich poetic tapestries and complex musical and atmospheric architectures, is Henry's highest achievement thus far. He has moved into a space that only he and Tom Waits inhabit in that they are songwriters who have created deep archetypal characters that are composites -- metaphorical, allegorical, and "real" -- of the world around them and have created new sonic universes for them to both explore and express themselves in. Scar is a triumph not only for Henry -- who has set a new watermark for himself -- but for American popular music, which so desperately needed something else to make it sing again.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 5/15/2001
  • Label: Fontana Mammoth
  • UPC: 720616550729
  • Catalog Number: 165507
  • Sales rank: 29,385

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1 Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation (6:21)
  2. 2 Stop (4:40)
  3. 3 Mean Flower (4:50)
  4. 4 Struck (5:24)
  5. 5 Rough and Tumble (4:53)
  6. 6 Lock and Key (4:46)
  7. 7 Nico Lost One Small Buddha (3:23)
  8. 8 Cold Enough to Cross (3:13)
  9. 9 Edgar Bergen (6:03)
  10. 10 Scar (5:30)
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
Joe Henry Primary Artist, Guitar, Percussion, Keyboards, Vocals, Musician
Bob Malach Performing Ensemble, Musician
Marc Ribot Guitar
Brian Blade Percussion, Drums, Musician
Ornette Coleman Alto Saxophone, Musician
MeShell NdegeOcello Bass
Brad Mehldau Musician
Sandra Park Performing Ensemble, Concert Master
Dave Pilch Bass, Musician
Steve Barber Conductor
Robert Rinehart Performing Ensemble
Abe Laboriel Jr. Musician
Elizabeth Dyson Performing Ensemble
Technical Credits
Joe Henry Producer
Greg Calbi Mastering
Craig Street Producer, Back Cover
Steve Barber Orchestral Arrangements
S. "Husky" Hoskulds Engineer
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